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Audit says homelessness in Utah is increasing, housing is not

Homeless Camp.jpg
Posted at 5:02 PM, Nov 16, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — A new audit presented to the Utah State Legislature on Tuesday said that homelessness is increasing in Utah, while housing still remains behind.

"This trend raises questions as to whether the resources devoted to homeless services are producing the desired outcomes," the audit said.

It found that the number of unsheltered people has increased 200% since 2016. The number of people considered "chronically homeless" has also nearly tripled in the same time period.

The audit, prepared by the Office of Legislative Auditor General, was tracking funding going to homeless services, which was more than $300 million in 2019. But it warned new shelters did not open up until late 2019.

"Given the COVID-19 pandemic and minimal time HRCs have been in operation; it is difficult to assess the impact of the funding adequately and fairly," the audit said.

But it questioned whether the state was achieving all the goals it set out to with that funding. The audit itself was a follow up to a 2018 one that found a lack of oversight over homeless services.

"Currently, Utah’s homeless services system measures its success in terms of how quickly it helps homeless individuals obtain and retain housing. If this is the primary objective, evidence suggests that Utah is making progress. Even within the chronic homeless population, once they obtain housing, most remain housed. One of the challenges of this housing-focused strategy is to provide enough housing for all those who need it," the audit said.

There are also problems with getting housing. The cost of housing right now is an issue.

"We found that the cost of new permanent supportive housing to be quite high with cost estimates ranging from $250,000 to $275,000 per unit," the audit said. "For example, in June 2021, The Road Home completed construction of The Magnolia, a 65-unit permanent supportive housing facility for the chronically homeless. The cost of construction was reported to be $17 million (actually $16.4 million was budgeted, not including the land which was donated). That comes to per unit cost of roughly $262,000."

In order to meet demand for permanent, supportive housing it would cost the state more than $300 million for 1,200 units. Salt Lake County recently estimated more than a half-billion dollars to provide more than 2,900 housing units to meet demand.

In a response to the audit, Wayne Niederhauser, the former Senate President and now head of Utah's Office of Homeless Services, said they were addressing some of the issues.

"The audit has highlighted efforts that Homelessness Coordinator and the Office of Homeless Services have been working on for several months. A Request for Proposal (RFP) will be released within the next month to revise the State Strategic Plan on Homelessness. Additionally, we will be working with the Utah Homelessness Council on data integration and Homeless Management Information System improvement," he wrote. "As an Office, we are committed to continued support of the Utah Homelessness Council, the Local Homeless Councils and the Utah Homeless Network in finding solutions which create the best opportunity to make homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring."

Read the audit here: